Egypt: The People’s Revolution
The people’s revolution is on the march; When the freedom-loving people march — when the farmers have an opportunity to buy land at reasonable prices and sell the produce of their land through their own organizations, when workers have the opportunity to form unions and bargain through them collectively, and when the children of all the people have an opportunity to attend schools which teach them truths of the real world in which they live — when these opportunities are open to everyone, then the world moves straight ahead… The people are on the march toward ever fuller freedom, toward manifesting here on earth the dignity that is in every human soul. Henry A. Wallace, Vice-President of the United States setting out US war aims in June 1942.
The wave of the people’s revolution has swept over Tunisia and pushed President Ben Ali to exile in Saudi Arabia on 14 January 2011.. The disintegration of Ben Ali’s government and power base through massive non-violent action has been closely watched in the Arab world. Although Ben Ali was not particularly liked by his neighbours, political leaders in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Syria and Jordan can see the parallel without too much difficulty — a heavy-handed security state with diminishing popular support and growing demands from an educated, yet frustrated population.
It is in Egypt, following the Tunisian example, the people’s revolution through non-violent action brought down President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011. ll/2/11 will no doubt become the code for action in other States. The cries of the Tunisian revolutionary movement “Liberty-Work-Dignity” have been taken up by other peoples. Throughout the Arab world, governments have been unable or unwilling to open serious discussions on socio-economic policies and alternatives. Islamic-based groups have played some role in focusing protests but have not done much in presenting realistic alternative policies. The violence of some of the Islamic groups in some countries has served as a pretext for the governments to ban all policy discussions without too many protests from Western governments.
The repressive forces of the State were stronger in Egypt than in Tunisia where there was a division of policy between the less-politically-structured army and the more pro- Ben Ali police and palace guard. In Egypt, there are some 340,000 in the Army and probably as many in the domestic security services — police, riot police, numerous intelligence services. They receive their relatively high wages thanks to US government “aid” of $1.3 billion a year, Egypt being the second highest recipient of US funds after Israel. In addition, there is a bloated civil service whose well-being depends on their government jobs.
However, the Egyptian Army, whose ordinary soldiers come from the working classes, decided not to open fire on the demonstrators. The higher military officers, who have strong economic interests in the status quo, felt the need to protect their prerogatives and so were willing to jettison Mubarak. While authority has been transferred to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, what we have seen in Egypt is not a military coup but a new wave of the people’s revolution led largely by young people demanding dignity, respect and jobs.
The people’s revolution has been largely nonviolent. Violence did come from State-sponsored pro-Mubarak thugs who clashed with protesters, basically for one day. However, the thugs had no popular base and faded away.
Now the people’s revolution is moving on uncharted waters. Under Mubarak, a man with an iron fist, there was little room to develop a politically-conscious civil society. Open discussion on the nature of State and Society was discouraged. Now there is a need to create democratic political parties, a pluralistic media and open discussion on the future. Fair and free elections for a president and a parliament are needed, but elections to be meaningful require a broad consensus on the nature of government and on the direction of society. The non-violent people’s revolution has empowered people and shown that the quest for dignity is transformative.
Egypt, with its 80 million people, has always had an important cultural influence in the Arab world and beyond. Its people’s revolution already has moved people in Yemen, Jordan and Algeria. The people’s revolution is on the march and is unlikely to be cut short.
Rene Wadlow, Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens and Editor of Transnational Perspectives, www.transnational-perspectives.org